By: Sam Weinberg  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: American Midterm Elections From a Pro-Israel Perspective

As a midterm enters the rearview mirror and a new political landscape is shaping up to only further the bitter partisan rhetoric the United States has seen in the last few years, one thing that is clear is that considerable bipartisan support for Israel remains in the halls of Congress.

While cultural and campus conversation has shifted more toward anti-Zionist positions, with many venturing into full-on antisemitic territory, AIPAC-endorsed candidates still make up a majority of elected officials in positions of federal power. Out of the 365 candidates the organization has placed its support behind, over 300 were victorious in their races, proving that, as AIPAC likes to say, “being pro-Israel is both good policy and good politics.”

The slim majorities in both halls of Congress make it difficult for any single member of Congress to step out of line with their party and its goals. While anti-Israel resolutions have never had an easy path in Congress, it will become much more difficult with the even more intense gridlock in Washington following the midterms. In particular, progressive movements will likely see more backlash to any sort of agenda they would try to establish. Slightly added power to the Republican party, the party more homogenous in its support for pro-Israel legislation, add to this difficulty.

AIPAC started getting involved in individual races for the first time this year and focused on some races in particular. In the Maryland primary, AIPAC gave a sizable portion of their donations to candidate Glenn Ivey as he went up against J-Street-backed Donna Edwards. The New York Times had referred to that race as a proxy fight about the prominence of pro-Israel legislators in the Democratic establishment. Ivey was able to overcome an initial double-digit deficit to take a slight lead by early June, and once AIPAC’s involvement became more significant, Ivey ended up winning by 16%. In the general election, Ivey beat his Republican challenger by nearly 80 percent, cementing a strong pro-Israel voice on the left wing of Congress.

Another big win for AIPAC-backed candidates in the Democratic wing is the victory of Abigail Spanberger. A former CIA worker who flipped a seat that had been Republican for decades in 2018, Spanberger has become one of the most vocal pro-Israel voices in Congress. She spoke at the AIPAC policy conference in 2020, and her voice is amplified further as a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. She beat Yesli Vega in the general election by barely 4 percent of the vote.

Not everything went well for the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. The general election race that AIPAC was most involved in was between Summer Lee and Mike Doyle, battling in Pennsylvania’s 12 District. Lee, who would be considered a new member of “The Squad,” was under much pressure from the pro-Israel population for tweeting out in May 2021, “When I hear American pols use the refrain ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ in response to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized pop, I can’t help but think of how the west has always justified indiscriminate & disproportionate force & power on weakened & marginalized ppl.” 

The equation of  Israel’s right to defend itself and “undeniable atrocities” naturally didn’t sit well with many, and AIPAC got heavily involved. The race was a microcosm of the progressive wing of the Democratic’s party intense rhetoric against AIPAC and Israel as a whole. The voice of the movement, Senator Bernie Sanders, described the battle between progressives and AIPAC as a “war” to the New York Times. Lee ended up winning her race by a sizable margin, despite AIPAC spending a large portion on her rival.

Virginia also voted out one of the most pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, Elaine Luria. Luria, who is outspoken about the need to fund the Iron Dome and is herself a veteran of the Navy, lost a heated battle with Republican Jen Kiggans. Luria was one of the most vocal pro-Israel Democrats in Congress and was wont to call out her colleagues for their anti-Zionist rhetoric dipping into antisemitism.

On a more positive note for Jewish values finding representatives in positions of power, Josh Shapiro, a vocal Conservative Jew, defeated Doug Mastriano for the governor’s race in Pennsylvania. Shapiro, who is kashrut observant,  is one of the proudest Jews in American politics, and his campaign featured ads of him eating Shabbat dinner with his family.t. His opponent had faced significant controversy for business ties with vocal antisemites, including the owner of the social network Gab, where the shooter from the Tree of Life massacre posted his manifesto.

In terms of his relationship with Israel, Shapiro has been vocal against the BDS movement. As an anti-BDS bill found its footing in Pennsylvania’s House, Shapiro called the movement a “real threat … foster[ing] lies about Israel which in turn undermines Israel’s security.” He concluded by saying “support for Israel should be a bipartisan issue.” 

With overall support for Israel still high in the halls of Congress, and this election having been a net gain for the pro-Israel cause, Israel should continue to be a bipartisan issue for some time to come.

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Photo Caption: The relationship between the US and Israel remains strong

Photo Credit: Christian Dorn